The People of Gibraltar
1757 - The Jews of Gibraltar - The Calm before the Storm


Lord Tyrawley was now Governor and Gibraltar was both reasonably prosperous and at peace. Not that you would have thought that this would have been of much importance after reading Tyrawley's letter to the Leader of the House of Commons, Henry Fox.
I take it for granted it will be extremely quiet, for I do not see that we do ourselves much good, or anybody else any hurt, by our being in possession of it. If anything tempt anybody to besiege it, it will be the fatherless and motherless de fenceless state it has been suffered to run into; all which I have fully represented at home, where I thought it was most proper. 
I would conclude from all this that I hope I shall not be left in so idle a place I hope to receive orders to return to my staff and my regiment of guards. " The sooner the better." 

James O'Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley  ( see LINK

And in another letter to Fox;
You will find I am not so thoroughly satisfied that Gibraltar is so formidable a place as the common  cry thinks it ; but that it would want money, time, and ability in the distribution of both to make it so. That Gibraltar is the strongest town in the world, that one Englishman can beat three Frenchmen, and that London-bridge is one of the seven wonders in the world, are the natural prejudices of an English coffee-house politician. 
I am doing some little matters here that I think add to the strength of it ; but much more ought to be done that I cannot take upon myself to work upon without orders. I really grow tolerably weary of Gibraltar, which is in all respects upon the most scandalous foot that ever town was, that pretends to call itself une place de guerre; though so exactly consistent with our notions of this sort of things, that I assure myself it
will never take any other form.
Which Tyrawley followed up with yet another one, this time to the Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder.
You will observe . . . that I look upon Gibraltar as in a manner dismantled by the last measures taken in respect to its garrison, and I thought it my duty to lay my opinion of this matter before the Duke, who I am confident could have no idea of things here being in so sad a condition, without such a representation as my letter contains. . . . I assure you I take it as no great compliment to be left here as storekeeper of Gibraltar, and therefore, dear Sir, I beg you will make my mind easy in getting me the Duke's leave to come home.
Despite his witty if rather cynical criticisms of Gibraltar, the Governor soon made himself busy in an attempt to overhaul its defences. Jewish and Genoese labourers gave him a helping hand. However, 
. . . the Jews to shew their Zeal for the King's Service would take no money.
In the larger world of international politics Tyrawley's letters to London seem to have influenced the Prime Minister and he secretly instructed the British ambassador to find out if there was any possibility of exchanging Gibraltar for Minorca - which the British had just lost, and of which Tyrawley had probably been more to blame than anybody else.  
. . . And in case it be found necessary for attaining these great and essential ends, to treat with the crown of Spain  . . .  concerning an exchange of Gibraltar for the Island of Minorca, with the ports and fortresses thereof. 

Satirical engraving on the loss of Minorca ( 1756 - Unknown ) 

It came to nothing but it is interesting to speculate whether the leaders of the Jewish community were aware of these shenanigans. Such an exchange would have been disastrous for them. Perhaps that was the reason why the Jewish labourers - presumably via instructions from above - refused to take any money for their work.  

Meanwhile contraband into Spain was struggling to become as big a business as it would the following century and almost every Governors from Bland onwards did their best to try to stop it.  Lord Home went so far as to allow Spanish Customs officials to station themselves on the wharf at Gibraltar in order to supervise the activities of possible smugglers. 

Semi-continuous wars against France ensured that any enterprising soul on the Rock could make money privateering and many a Jewish merchant fitted out their ships for precisely this purpose. As a consequence many of them became extremely rich men through the sale of prizes and their cargoes in the auctions in the Grand Parade - appropriately nick-named 'the Jews market' the following century.


The Commercial Square in the late 10th century. It had now become a sort of Jewish 'down'-market - a far cry from its glory days in the mid 18th  ( Unknown )

According to John Drinkwater ( see LINK ) it was around this period that an important event occurred on the Rock which is not given the importance it deserves in most modern, well-known general histories of Gibraltar. William Jackson is one historian who does;
. . . the garrison of Gibraltar disgraced itself and came close to undoing all the hard work of British Diplomats. Two of its regiments had been too long on the Rock and, as the wars went on, could see little prospect of relief. A plot was hatched whereby the officers would be murdered, the treasury plundered, and the fortress surrendered to Spain. Some 730 soldiers were thought to have been involved . An accidental quarrel in a wine house gave the plot away. A private of the 7th regiment was executed in Grand Parade and ten others were condemned to lesser punishments. 
The Jews would have had nothing to gain by such a plot and it is quite possible that they may have had a hand in its 'accidental' discovery. Several decades later, in 1798, another similar conspiracy to return the Rock to Spain - this time organised by the local civilians - was almost certainly exposed by one of the leaders of the Jewish community at the time - Aaron Cardozo ( see LINK


Meanwhile the locals were now being allowed to obtain passports from the governor which allowed them to cross the frontier to trade with Spain. Even the Jews took advantage of this opportunity to make even more money.  In 1759, Inquisition records show that a Jew from Gibraltar went to Valencia on business. He may have been inconvenienced by a familiar of the Inquisition who dogged his every step, carefully checking his progress to make sure he wasn't cheating anybody.  But he did manage to sell his goods and return safely. The passports worked - although they were probably hard to obtain and came with a short expiry date.  A Fortress Order of August 1766 reads: 
 . . . . Jews having permits for Spain, enjoin'd to send them in, on pain of being expell'd the Garrison. 
Paradoxically, these passports seem to have had little effect on the problem of controlling illegal immigration. The Jew Sergeant of the day, Judah Serfaty, was given the additional responsibility of stopping  Barbary Jews stepping ashore from the many boats coming from Barbary - but from a British point of view, his effectiveness left much to be desired. Between 1753 and 1777 the Jewish community grew from 572 to 863, or more than a quarter of the civilian population. 


The wharf area at Waterport   ( 1844 - George Lothian  Hall )

Despite all this, life on the Rock from the 1760s right up to the start of the Great Siege, seems to have been a relatively pleasant affair. Even the Jews were allowed to relax and enjoy themselves.
In winter there are hotel dances paid for by the officers themselves and to which not only their wives attend but also those of . . . Jewish merchants. Dances given by the governor are more respectable affairs where the only women invited are the wives of officers, principle government employees and consuls.  An exception is the queen of the Jews who has become famous these last few years for her beauty . . . 
The underlying theme may well have been those expressed by the Spanish Historian Ignacio Lopez de Ayala ( see LINK ) who despite his general anti-Semitism and disapproval of the English was a man of the Enlightenment. He seemed to approve of the way Gibraltar was run.
Veamos ya el vecindario , gobierno i tropas en el estado moderno de la plaza. Además de la guarnición habitan en tiempo de paz como tres mil personas de ambos sexo. . .  quinientos son Ingles, como mil Judíos , i hasta mil cuatrocientos Católicos Portugueses , Italianos , algunos Españoles , i la mayor parte Genoveses. Era de temer por la diversidad de religiones , de costumbres é intereses de los habitantes, que se experimentaran en Gibraltar las pendencias i atrocidades que en otras ciudades de la provincia.
La severidad del gobierno militar las ha precavido; porque certificados los individuos que allí concurren , de la pena que les amenaza en caso de incurrir en algún delito , certificados de que allí no se gana a los ministros ni se cohechan los jueces , fundan su seguridad en no interrumpir la ajena; y por un efecto de, leyes tan bien establecidas como observadas pasan muchos anos sin que se vean los asesinatos i violentas muertes que en otras poblaciones más pequeñas i de vecinos uniformes en religión i leyes.
Casi todas las potencias marítimas mantienen cónsules, siendo el comercio la principal ocupación de cuantos allí subsiste.  Las casas más ricas son Inglesas, i además de los militares , i otros empleados por el gobierno , hay Ingleses de varios oficios, i con casa de posada. Los Judíos son por la mayor parte tenderos o corredores, tan puntuales allí como en todas partes en engañas, i prestarse a las logrerías mas enormes.
Tienen su sinagoga, profesan su religión y observan públicamente sus ritos, aunque reclama abiertamente el tratado de Utrecht. Los gobierna o maneja el Judío de mas consideración que llaman 'Rei'. Este se entiende con el gobernador quien  por su medio intima las ordenes i recoge los tributos, que todos ceden en su beneficio, pues es arbitro y soberano despótico del pueblo, i mas rei en Gibraltar que el mismo rei en Inglaterra . . . . Los Genoveses  . . . i  . .  los Judíos hablan bien o mal el Castellano e el Ingles, y un dialecto o jerga común a todas las naciones sin excluir las Africanas.  . . . 
Ayala's  'Rei' or 'King of the Jews' was of course, a misnomer for the Chief Rabbi of Gibraltar who was at the time Isaac Aboab. ( see LINK He was a man of considerable character,  born in Tetuan in 1712 and was brought over to Gibraltar by his father in 1720 when he was just 8 years old. 

Aboab senior must have been one of those very few Jewish merchants rich enough to be able to risk the move to Gibraltar where the cost of living was so very much higher than in Tetuan. The risk paid off. By 1749 the family were the largest property-owners on the Rock and by 1777 Isaac owned 15 properties and had an interest in another one. 

In 1755 he discounted a draft of nearly £1000  to the British Consul General in Morocco, William Petticrew, who was going to use the money to release some British captives held in Morocco. Petticrew died before he was able to honour the draft and thirteen years later Aboab was still petitioning the Governor Cornwallis  to recover his money.  He had a point. He had only agreed to the transaction because the then Governor, General Fowke had asked him to do so.  When Cornwallis forwarding Aboab's petition to England, he described him as: 
. . . a principle Jew Merchant of this place he has resided here many years with a fair character and I dare say what he sets forth is true and as such I recommend it to Your Lordship's Consideration.

Edward Cornwallis ( 1756 - Joshua Reynolds )

In Vicente Blasco Ibáñez well researched novel  - the eponymous heroine turns out to be the granddaughter of a very rich local Jew called Aboab. The following quote from the book is obviously fiction, but it does give the reader a flavour of how the real Aboab would have been perceived by non-Jews at the time - and of course by writers such as Blasco Ibáñez. 
The tabernacle Aguirre saw was that of old Aboab and his son, brokers who kept their establishment on the selfsame Royal Street, just a few doors below. And the servant pronounced the name Aboab (father and son) with that mingling of superstitious awe and hatred which is inspired in the poor by wealth that is considered unjustly held. All Gibraltar knew them; it was the same in Tangier, and the same in Rabat and Casablanca. Hadn't the gentleman heard of them? The son directed the business of the house, but the father still took part, presiding over all with his venerable presence and that authority of old age which is so infallible and sacred among Hebrew families.
"If you could only see the old man!" added the attendant, with his Andalusian accent. "A white beard that reaches down to his waist, and if you'd put it into hot water it would yield more than a pitcherful of grease. He's almost as greasy as the grand Rabbi, who's the bishop among them.... But he has lots of money. Gold ounces by the fistful, pounds sterling by the shovel; and if you'd see the hole he has in the street for his business you'd be amazed. A mere poor man's kitchen. It seems impossible that he can store so much there! 

Gibraltar in the background ( Unknown )

According to the Scots Magazine Isaac Aboab died 'upwards of aged 90' - which seems rather unlikely. More believably he left:
. . . two widows one aged 70 the other about 40. He was an eminent Jew merchant, born in Barbary, where a plurality of wives is allowed and was resident in Gibraltar for upwards of 60 years, and suffered greatly in his property by the Siege. 
The 'Siege' referred to is the Great Siege ( see LINK ) in which just about the whole of the town was destroyed. Understandably those who owned the most property were the ones who lost the most. The  'about 40' year old wife was a Jewess called Simha. He married her when she was only 13. She was reputed to have been ‘a notorious beauty’ although the ungallant Lopez de Ayala tells us she was bald because she was known to wear a wig. The reason she did so had nothing to do with baldness. Jewish law required married women to cover their hair.

Isaac and his wives one of the many Jewish families that decided to go London 1781 by which time the siege was taking its toll on everybody.  He never returned to Gibraltar. He died in London and was buried in the Beth Haim Novo in Mile End Road in 1786. There are two empty plots next to his grave which he had reserved for his two widows. Neither was taken up.


The 1777 Census and attendant lists confirm that Aboab was by no means the only well connect Jewish person on the Rock. Others included:

Isaac Almosnino - Chief Rabbi of Gibraltar and son of a Chief Rabbi of Tetuan He settled in Gibraltar in 1737, at the age of 25. He left Gibraltar in 1781 escaping the Great Siege and died in London 1785.
Rabbi Abraham Coriat - Born in Tetuan in 1717, he became Dayan both of  Tetuan and Mogador. During the Siege he went to Leghorn and died there in 1806.
Solomon Azuelos  - Licenced by the Governor's secretary in 1774 as a tobacconist.
Moses Espinosa - Dutch Vice-Consul, shipowner and 'an old-established house of business and in credit here'. His father Isaac Espinosa probably came to Gibraltar from Amsterdam.
The Nunez Cardozo family
Abraham Brothers
Judah Israel - from Tetuan - killed during the Great Siege
Moses Israel - Judah Israel's son who went to live in England and set up the firm Moses Isreal & Co.
Abraham Israel - Another of Judah's sons. He was a junior partner and Gibraltar agent of his brother's firm.
Abraham wrote a book of poetry in Spanish, Un viaje de Gibraltar a Londres en el año 1777 . The manuscript of is in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.
Solomon Israel - Judah's third son 
David Leuche from Leghorn 
Abraham and Saml. Cohen 
Aburdarham
Taurel and Cansino

As regards the Jewish porters, their number of had increased to 26.
I do hereby appoint the several Jews hereunder to be porters in this garrison, to carry goods for merchants & others, and to do all other kinds of porters work, they giving due attendance, and demanding only the limited prices for their labour agreeable to the established regulations and in every respect conforming themselves to the Rules and Orders of the Garrison.
Also:
. . . And at the request of the said porters I do hereby nominate and appoint Meshod Benbunan to be their Chief or overseer and Somon Oziel their Clerk. This to continue in force a twelve month. Given at Gibraltar the 1st day of January 1774.
Robert Boyd.
Abraham Bensado
Abraham Abecasis
Meshod Abecasis
Joseph Uziel 
Judah Bensusan
Moses Halfon 
Samuel Masias 
Solomon Benayon 
Moses Benyunes 
David Benyunes 
Abraham Hassa 
Simon Benmuya 
Joseph Bensusan
Moses Nahon 
Mimon Bensetrit 
Abraham Navarro
Isaac Hassan 
Abraham Aluff 
Solomon Ladero
Meshod Abucasis
Yamin Gabay 
Jacob Levy 
Saml. Burgi 
Saya Benamor
Judah Azulay 
Halfon Serfaty 

There were also 38 licensed town boats and lighters of which  four were owned and manned by Jews:

Boat No 23 - Master - Samuel Bensusan - Crew - Isaac Bensusan and Samuel Cohen
Boat No 24 - Master - Soin. Benzaquen - Crew - Judah Benzaquen and Jacob Benzaquen
Boat No 25-16 - Master - Jamin Gabay  Crew - Isaac Benchiquito, Abram Belilo and Joseph Bensamero

Other registered Jewish Boatmen were: 
Abaccuc Barosi
Moses Hassan
Moses Heluz

Although few realised it at the time, the good days were coming to an end. The Great Siege of Gibraltar was just round the corner.



The Great Siege ( Unknown )

Other articles on the Jews of Gibraltar.

1704 - The Exodus 
1728 - The Return
1750 - The Establishment
1779 - The Great Siege